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FilmOut: Did a true story inspire “Tru Love,” the movie?

(Editor's note: SDGLN is featuring Q&A interviews with leading filmmakers from around the world who are participating in FilmOut San Diego's 16th annual LGBT Film Festival, running May 30 to June 1 at the historic North Park Theatre. Follow SDGLN for all the news about one of the top LGBT film festivals in the U.S. “Tru Love” is the Girls Centerpiece and will be shown at 12:45 pm Sunday, June 1. Ticket sales are brisk for this movie, so advance purchase is a safe way to guarantee a seat.)

SAN DIEGO, California – Kate Johnston is earning high praise for her first full-length feature, “Tru Love,” co-directed and co-written by Shauna MacDonald, the film’s star and co-producer.

“Tru Love” has been selected as the Girls Centerpiece at FilmOut San Diego’s 16th annual LGBT Film Festival.

Johnston is a name familiar to FilmOut audiences, having served as associate producer of “Margarita,” which was presented at the 15th annual LGBT Film Festival. She also is the writer/director/producer of the short film, “Stormcloud,” which is in post-production.

Kate Johnston spills the beans on whether “Tru Love” is a fictional story, answers if the winter shoot is full of symbolism, and talks about the challenges of co-directing.

Q: What’s the background on the plot for “Tru Love”? Is it pure fiction or based on real people?

Kate: It was inspired by a young lesbian friend of mine who told me about a beautiful older widow with whom she developed a close friendship with over the years. They meet for dinner once a year and drink wine and there is an innocent flirtation they both clearly relish. A spark was lit for me. It seemed like the good basis for a film. But the characters and the story itself is pure fiction.

Film is about the “what if” question. I thought “what if” these two women met and while forming an unlikely bond accidentally fell in love. What would happen then? Who are these women? Conflict required a third character, which became the daughter. That triangle of mother, daughter, friend. It was also a study in loneliness and isolation (which we all experience) and of course attraction and unexpected love which liberates them all from themselves and from each other. This is what created the impulse when I wrote it first as a short film.

I was then was encouraged to by Shauna and others to expand it to a feature film. The story was too good to be wasted on a short film I was told. I wrote the first solid draft of the feature in less than a month and then Shauna worked with me on the subsequent drafts as my co-writer and finally we work-shopped it with actors numerous times until we had it lean. The rest is history.

Q: The evocative romance that brews between Tru and her ex-girlfriend’s mother, Alice, sets up a fascinating conflict with Suzanne. Kate and Shauna, you are to be commended for etching out three strong female characters. How did you cast the elegant Christine Horne in the role of Suzanne, and how was she to work with?

Kate: Thank you! The elegant Christine Horne shares the same agent as Shauna, so that is great! She is also somebody whose work I am familiar with (I was an associate producer on the lesbian feature film “Margarita”) and when our casting director Sharon Forrest suggested her, Shauna and I both leapt at the chance to work with her. She is a brilliant actress, a dream to work with. She says so much without saying a thing. She conveys such a rich tapestry of complex emotion in a single look and elevated the words and character beyond any hope I had ever imagined.

Q: The script was tight, the story line is compelling, and the acting is terrific. What is the buzz about your movie on the film festival circuit?

Kate: Thank you!!The buzz is very good so far I have to say. Our reviews have been equally positive as well (touch wood!) Our world premiere was actually Raindance London UK in October 2013 where we were first seen and reviewed and subsequently included in the top 10 films list for 2103 in Huff Post UK (one below “Gravity”). That was amazing. We just got back from London UK again for the BFI: Flare LGBT Film festival. Again, terrific festival. The buzz has been ongoing and the film is now on the international LGBT film circuit. We couldn’t be more thrilled. We also have distribution through Wolfe Releasing U.S, Juice Canada, Peccadillo Pictures UK and Salzgeber in Germany.

Q: Was there any reason you chose to shoot during the winter, with outdoor scenes in the snow and the harsher Toronto weather? Was it for symbolism or for convenience? Inquiring minds want to know!

Kate: A few reasons. Budget and availability of actors and crew! And, of course, yes, symbolism is key -- the winter was the absolute best season for the film itself. Such a stark beauty. Poetic. The ice, the city and nature visuals, the metaphor of being frozen in your life and then the thaw in the spring. You can’t get that otherwise. I think the story and film is much served better by being told in the winter.

Q: Why did you decide to co-direct with Shauna? Did you take a collaborative or individual approach to directing? And how did that work out in the end? What lessons did you learn?

Kate: Well, Shauna was my creative collaborator from the time I finished writing the first feature length draft of “Tru Love.” I was the director on set, storyboarding and creating the images, etc., directing the actors etc., and also in the early stage of the rough cut. Shauna needed to focus on being Tru on set, which was important but having the super sharp eye she does (she has an amazing eye for detail) she was able to go over the shot-list, help make changes when required, double check all shots and watched dailies as well to look for mistakes -- which was wonderful. She was with me in the editing room every day as my co-director after the rough cut. This was my first directorial feature (as well as hers) so it was critical for us to work together in unison to attain what was best for the film itself. It was a true collaboration.

I learned that I have many strengths (I have very strong visual eye for telling a story and I know where the tension lies) and I also have a lot to learn from others – technically, which is ongoing and a huge learning curve & one in which I am grateful to learn from.

Q: What do you want audiences to remember about the film after they leave the theater?

Kate: That love is possible. That we have to start with ourselves. It is an inner job; that to live in fear of it can cripple you. The line that Alice says -- “I hope you find someone to love with all your heart, and if your heart breaks, I hope it breaks wide open” -- that sums it up for me.

Q: What’s next for you?

Kate: I am writing two scripts -- one a drama (with humor, of course) and one a romantic-comedy – both of which I will direct. And I am collaborating co-writing on a feature film with two women from the UK.

Q: What is something your fans don’t know about you both?

Kate: My father ran a movie theater and I grew up in a projection booth. I was an actor before I became a writer/director but I much prefer to be the quiet storyteller behind the camera.

Q: If you were granted three wishes, what would you do with them?
Kate: Make more films. Fall in love again. Travel more.



About FilmOut San Diego

FilmOut San Diego affirms the ongoing integrity and boundless imagination of our community and the artists who tell our stories. We believe our work is an integral part of an ongoing effort to build a vibrant, affirming and sustainable LGBT community in San Diego County. We hope you will join us.

Financial support for FilmOut San Diego is provided in part by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts & Culture. While attending our festival, please spend time in America’s Finest City, support our neighboring restaurants, and enjoy the many museums, parks, beaches and other recreational facilities that out city has to offer.

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Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.